The Future Of Books: A Dystopian Timeline

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With the launch of the Kindle Fire tomorrow, I thought it would be fun to write a little bit sci-fi and imagine what the publishing market will look like in the next ten or so years. I’m a strong proponent of the ebook and, as I’ve said again and again, I love books but they’re not going to make it past this decade, at least in most of the developed world.

As we well know, ebook sales are now outpacing hardback sales and publishers are now crowing ebook numbers alongside their traditional in-store sales numbers. Soon those in-store sales numbers will dwindle and disappear simply because there will be no stores – heavy readers, the folks who buy genre fiction by the basket-full will be happy to head over to Nooks and Kindles, especially when they drop below $99 (as they will this year).

If I were a betting man, I’d wager quite a bit on these predictions. However, if you’re currently in the book sales racket – from publisher to used bookstore owner, I’d be very worried. The time to pivot is now and it’s clearly already happening. While I will miss the creak of the Village Bookshop’s old church floor, the calm of Crescent City books, and the crankiness of the Provincetown Bookshop, the time has come to move on.

2013 – EBook sales surpass all other book sales, even used books. EMagazines begin cutting into paper magazine sales.
2014 – Publishers begin “subsidized” e-reader trials. Newspapers, magazines, and book publishers will attempt to create hardware lockins for their wares. They will fail.
2015 – The death of the Mom and Pops. Smaller book stores will use the real estate to sell coffee and Wi-Fi. Collectable bookstores will still exist in the margins.
2016 – Lifestyle magazines as well as most popular Conde Nast titles will go tablet-only.
2018 – The last Barnes & Noble store converts to a cafe and digital access point.
2019 – B&N and Amazon’s publishing arms – including self-pub – will dwarf all other publishing.
2019 – The great culling of the publishers. Smaller houses may survive but not many of them. The giants like Random House and Penguin will calve their smaller houses into e-only ventures. The last of the “publisher subsidized” tablet devices will falter.
2020 – Nearly every middle school to college student will have an e-reader. Textbooks will slowly disappear.
2023 – Epaper will make ereaders as thin as a few sheets of paper.
2025 – The transition is complete even in most of the developing world. The book is, at best, an artifact and at worst a nuisance. Book collections won’t disappear – hold-outs will exist and a subset of readers will still print books – but generally all publishing will exist digitally.

[Image: Blend Images/Shutterstock]